A New Person
For the first month or so of her or his life out of the womb, most noticeably in the first week, a new baby is clearly not much of this world, but a traveler from a distant place a very different world. The Chinese have a tradition of not considering a baby a member of society for a month, at which time they hold a "Citizen of This World" celebration to formally welcome the traveler who has come to be one of us.
If you can manage to have the time you and your baby deserve to relax together during this time, you may experience deep enjoyment and appreciation of your baby's peaceful "other worldliness" and his or her day-by-day acclimation to, and innocent acceptance of, the new surroundings. Some babies are quickly receptive to impressions of this world; others take time to admit things to their consciousness. But all the babies we have seen of this age are clearly transitional beings, taking their time to rest up and join up with us.
"I stay away from 'experts' who give advice that has me act differently than what my instincts tell me. For example, the suggestion to let the baby cry it out at night I tried this and felt so terrible, and my child suffered as well. So, I gave it up. And later on I was reading a different philosophy which supported my feelings. So, what I'm suggesting is that while there are many conflicting 'experts' out there, you are the only expert on your baby."
Visitors (And People Helping)
In these first days after the birth of your baby, it isn't surprising that friends and relatives are eager to see the new one. But during this new kind of honeymoon, it might be best to keep visits down to a minimum for at least three or four days. It's not just the disruption of an important time for privacy and quiet, but the stress that can come from wanting everything to be "presentable" and wanting to feel sparkly for people at a time when your body doesn't feel like it.
If you've taken our advice about preparing for afterwards, whoever is helping can make sure that others who offer help are given specific things to do. It's great, for instance, to have a roster of people for a few days making or bringing in your main meal or shopping, or doing some laundry.
A Few Words About Newborn Care
Whoever attends you during birth or immediately afterwards undoubtedly will tell you things you need to know about care of your baby during his or her first days in the world. So we would just like to emphasize a few things. One is that babies, coming from the warm containment of the womb, really do need to be (and enjoy being) kept warm and wrapped securely in receiving blankets. They also like being as close to you as they can as much of the time as they can, especially to be held close near the reassuring world of your or your partner's heart. So don't be afraid to be really close, to sleep with your newborn, and to nurse during the first days at anytime when the baby seems hungry. (Remember that the colostrum that precedes the milk in your breasts is very nutritious as well as a provider of important immunity factors.) If your nipples are tender, try very short (five-minute or less) sessions on each breast. And if the baby seems to be wanting your breast for reassurance rather than food, remember that you or your partner can simply cradle the baby and offer a pinky to suck on. Your baby is exercising her or his sucking reflex, and your finger may be just as satisfying. This is a good way for a father to get closer to his baby and to give a mother some relief at a time when it's needed.
Don't forget to burp your baby after nursing for a little while. Sometimes the need for a burp gets confused for the need to nurse some more, and while the baby may happily accept your breast as a soother, the burp may be the real need. So it's a good idea to hold the baby over your shoulder or face-down across your knees and pat him or her lightly on the back for at least a few moments if he or she seems distressed.
Since a great percentage of a baby's body heat can be lost through the top of the head, it may be wise to keep the baby's head covered a good part of the time for at least the first few days.
To deal with the meconium (the greenish-black, tarry, hard-to-clean substance that is your baby's first excrement), it will really help to keep a light coat of olive oil or another good oil on the baby's bottom until this state passes (usually a day or two). If you're washing cotton diapers, putting the meconium-soiled diapers immediately into cold water will help get them clean.
Sometime after the first two or three days your baby's eyes may get goopy. The easiest and most effective way to clean and help cure them is with your own breastmilk.
As we note in To The Newborn Father, this month, don't be disturbed if you feel hesitant and a little clumsy at first handling your new baby. New parents almost always do. It can be quite a process to try to get a little tee-shirt or sleeper on a tiny baby who can't even support his or her own head. But babies are very accepting, and you can go as slowly as you like.
"Follow your own instincts. You know more about your new baby than you think. Just remember everyone made mistakes with their baby and you have to keep it in perspective."
"In this culture, people frequently try to get a baby to adapt to sometimes narrow ideas of what a baby should do, often for the sake of convenience, regardless of whether or not this is really best for the baby (i.e trying to get the baby to sleep through the night at an early age, adhere to a feeding schedule, etc.) It is less frustrating in the long run, and healthier for you and your baby, if you try to adapt more to (and don't fight) their natural rhythms. Be flexible and remember babies are individuals and don't necessa-rily fit our ideas of what they should be like. A baby's wants are his needs. They are tiny for such a short while. You won't 'spoil' a little baby by picking him up every time he cries, and so on."
"Everyone elaborates so much on labor and delivery, and in comparison the hard part is bringing that little person home and learning real responsibility. After giving birth, full recovery is difficult because it takes a back seat to the needs of your baby. My daughter is 9 1/2 months and just now I am rediscovering what a full night's sleep is (unless she is sick or teething). The feeling is incredible when you learn their signals, and are able to make them content, and that time will come to every parent."
If you took us up on what we said in A Word About Planning last month, you will have somebody with you to help around the house after birth. Here are some things to underline that advice and encourage you to use the help available.
If your delivery was free of complications and you don't have a sutured perineum from tearing or having an episiotomy, you may feel surprisingly good and tempted after two or three days to get up, around and into the normal routine. But this is a time for rest, a good week at least of not getting much further than your bed and perhaps a week after that of very minimal physical activity.
Surprisingly, this is the issue on which most women have the hardest time respecting their own bodies' advice, which (even when you're feeling chipper right after birth,) is basically to take it easy. There's always a lot to do and it's hard for many of us to let someone else really take over our normal functions. There's also some pretty strong cultural conditioning that makes a lot of people feel that taking a needed rest is giving in to laziness (perhaps ever after).
Never mind all that. And never mind the example of "native" women immediately working in the fields after birthing their babies. You are not those women.
Apart from your physical need for rest, this is a very important time to enjoy and make a really peaceful connection with your baby. If you jump right up into your life, there's a chance that your baby, for all your love for her or him, will become a kind of accessory to your regular routine. You and your baby don't need this. What you do need is the luxury of a kind of honeymoon together. You can "get along" without this luxury, but you'll both have richer, deeper lives if you get a chance at it. You don't have to prove to the world that you can "do it all." (You'll do a greater "all" later if you do less now.)
If you have torn or had an episiotomy, this period of rest is even more important. You haven't only had a baby; you're healing from a wound. It isn't needless self-indulgence to rest and let your body perform the miracle of healing. Animals do it as a matter of course. So let the sun coming in through the window fall on your stitches for awhile. You can make helpful compresses and washes (particularly Sitz bath solutions) with ginger or comfrey teas. And don't be shy to ask someone to do something for you.
As you rest, you or your partner can massage your still prominent belly. It will help your uterus get back into its non-pregnant shape.
"The most important thing for me was to be well rested. Everything started from that foundation. When I wasn't tired, I could get more done, cope with my baby better, and enjoy him more. When you're fighting fatigue, I think you tend to just try to last until naptime or bedtime rather than making full use of the time the baby is awake.
This is one case where it's best to listen to what 'they' say: let the house go, nap when baby naps, get help from daddy, grandparents, neighbors."
"Your lifestyle will change. It's hard to realize that you have to share yourself with another person a small one who can take so much of what used to be 'your time'. Let the small person become a part of your new family if he/she feels secure, things will go much smoother for everyone. Mom usually has the biggest responsibility so Dad should try to help whenever he can, even by bringing home a pizza that first week. Also remember it will be different next week or month."
"One more critical idea for those mothers who are breastfeeding is the critical importance of drinking water. Have ready an 8 oz. glass when you sit down to feed; drink a glass when you wake up and before you go to bed."
"No matter what you read, hear, or see one will never be prepared for having a newborn in their house. But you will succeed.
It takes a little time to become adjusted to one another, to schedules, but all of a sudden one day things fall into place and you are a team!
And if friends and relatives want to help you a little -let them don't try to become a wonder mom overnight it won't happen. Take their help gracefully even if it isn't the way you would do it soon enough you'll be back to yourself and then you can do it the way you want."
To The Newborn's Father
If, as we hope, you have been part of a beautiful birth experience and have had the chance to hold your new child right from the start, the feeling of awkwardness that's so common to new fathers may not be part of your life. But if it is (and especially if you haven't been lucky enough to hold your baby immediately after birth), don't worry about feeling a little awkward. After all, holding a tiny infant is quite a bit different from everything else you do, and it takes a little getting used to. Awkwardness, nervousness, wondering "what to do" they are all part of the game for most new fathers.
As you acquire the early experience that will help these feelings pass, keep in mind that one thing that can do more for your life than you can easily imagine is the benefit of being with a totally receptive little being for whom you don't really have to "be" anything except your loving self. Modern living tends to make us rush past or forget one of life's real rewards the enjoyment of just being with someone you love, without having to say or do anything in particular. There's nothing like a baby, and especially a baby's pleasure at seeing you, to remind us of how big an enjoyment this really can be.
So, as you go through the initial getting-used-to-being-a-father-to-a-baby phase, remember that you have the ability to soothe, comfort, and please your baby just with your simple presence, just by picking him or her up. And if picking up the baby doesn't do the trick by itself, you'll be giving both your partner and yourself a big gift if you can get past just handing the baby over to Mom. Try holding the baby in different ways, walking around a little, seeing if the baby needs to be burped or changed. And another thing to try, as we mention elsewhere, is to see if the baby will suck on your pinky as an occasional substitute for nursing. (Often a newborn will want to suck just for the practice, not out of hunger.)
You can't become a "veteran" father overnight. But you will be surprised at how quickly you relax and enjoy doing things you've never thought about.
"Be kind to yourself it's much harder, more emotional, and more disruptive then you imagine before the baby is actually here. Treat yourselves gently, both for your sake and baby's. For example, don't expect to get enough sleep for 3 6 months. Expect to be somewhat grouchy. Expect your marriage to withstand a lot of turmoil and chaos, especially in the early weeks/months, but even a year later. Don't pressure yourselves to 'bond with' or 'unconditionally love' your baby those are processes that unfold over time and can't be controlled or rushed. Enjoy the unforgettable moments and remain 'in the present', not anxiously fearing what lies ahead or bitter about the birth experience. However, if you feel pained by a particularly rotten birth experience, go ahead and be mad about it and gripe and complain and cry, if necessary, and be done with it. Most of all, trust your instincts they are present and working. You know your particular baby more than anyone else. Listen to your baby's cries and coo's you're not supposed to magically know what they're signalling at first. Listening with your brain, ears, and heart will, over time and experience, help you decipher the puzzle until it forms a pattern. One by one, the patterns for your baby will emerge. Enjoy the process as much as you can, and your part in it, for process is what it's all about."
"Parenthood is like marriage; it brings joy and sorrow. The sorrow comes only because you love your children so much, you want them to be perfect. Everyone will have lots of advice; how to make them sleep better, eat better, throw less or no tantrums, never touch Grandma's breakables, never shout or roughhouse, never bite, scratch, pull hair or point a gun...the list goes on. The fact is children will be children. Many of their problems are age related and they will grow out of them. So fret as little as possible. They are young for only a short time and too soon they will be grown and gone."
"Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! Especially the newborn time. It is the most wonderful and most difficult time in your life. When our son was born 6 years ago today I was so anxious for him to turn 3 months so he could do more things. As I looked back as he kept getting older, I realized I'd missed those precious first few weeks and months in my hurry to get him to be an age I felt I could deal with. I never can get back that time."
The Post-Partum Blues
On the third or fourth day after giving birth, many women have a decidedly "down" day or two, feeling depressed and weepy. This has been attributed to several different things, and is probably a combination of all of them. The main ones are the reshifting of hormones in your body, the coming-in of milk into your breasts (which can be a bit painful and unsettling sometimes, but which can be relieved somewhat by a hot shower or hot, wet compresses), the psychological let-down that's understandable when life just continues after a long build-up to a big event, and the very real effects of fatigue. After a second or subsequent baby, these feelings can be intensified by "after-pains," contraction-like pains (from the shrinking of the uterus towards its normal size) that can be upsetting because of their unexpectedness and because you don't have the support you had during birth itself.
If and when you experience these blues, all we can really suggest is that you give in to your feelings and express them any way that feels right to you. This is another big transition time an important time to be kind to yourself. Fortunately the blues will pass quickly.
Taking Naps With Your Newborn
As your baby dozes off after nursing (or whenever), it's understandable to want to get right up and at the thousand things you couldn't do while the baby in your arms limited your mobility. But, at least part of the time, staying to nap along with your baby will actually help your motherhood express itself. Not only will resting help you recover from the demands on you, but it will help you and your baby establish the foundation of real unity that's so important to you both. The relaxed mental state that you share as you nap together actually encourages a really deep kind of communication between you a nourishing connection free of roles and the concerns of the world. And your receptive nearness to your newborn can help you regain a sense of what it was like to be a baby.
We're not saying there's anything unhealthy about wanting to do what needs to be done, but it's worthwhile not to give in to the external needs all the time during these first two or three months. The readiness to relax on your part is a big thing. If you don't have it, if you're itching to get going as your baby nurses and dozes off, your restlessness may well get through to your baby. And as soon as you try to slip away, her or his cries may demand you to come right back.
The thing is that your willingness to "go with" the baby will help supply a certain quality of attention that a new baby needs in order to establish the right foothold in the world. Giving that attention when needed is not only the best thing for your baby, but actually takes less time and effort in the long run than any other course of action. If in this situation you simply give in to your own need for rest in the first months after birth, what will happen a lot of times is that you will wake up after a bit and attend to things while the baby sleeps on. (And even a baby who might have awakened at your first step if you tried to slip away too soon will most likely sleep soundly now, even if you bang on pots and pans. It's a matter of security.)
Remember this really is a special time with your baby, your chance to get to know each other before the multiple routines of daily life re-assert their influence. It's all right for your house to be messier than you'd like it for a while. It will get taken care of eventually, and even a few moments rest you manage this way constitutes attention to yourself that will help you find your balance in your new world of parenthood.
"Yes, it can be hard. Walking the floor with a crying baby at 2 A.M. when you're utterly exhausted is like nothing else. But oh, the compensations! What a revelation that brand-new person is. How much herself she is, but how good a reminder of the beautiful essence of all of us. And how amazing it is to have met this person who was inside you, and see her making those same sweet swimming motions she was making in your womb. I wouldn't trade the joy, the beauty, the wonder of it all for any of the things I used to think were the big pleasures in life."
"Take every day as it comes and remember that the advice you get from others can only serve as a guide. Your baby and situation are entirely unique so let your baby tell you how to react. Also remember that even though there are days during the first few months that you don't get much positive feedback from your child in the form of smiles, special looks, babbling, etc., your parental efforts will be rewarded ten-fold by the time the baby is six months of age! So hang in there, It gets better by the day!!"
"The lack of sleep and disruptions of one's day/night body cycles, as well as hormonal changes in the new mother, can make her feel sad or depressed. This will pass! Don't take things too seriously in those first weeks. Sleep whenever you can, forget everything else, and enjoy the baby!"
"This Too Shall Pass!' Babies (and children) go through phases of behavior and development. The sleepless nights will pass and you'll be on to a different phase. Even the hardest times will soon be just memories."
"Let the housework slide. If anyone has anything to say about the way you're keeping house, cheerfully invite them to clean it to fit their specifications. Then go take a nap."
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